Magnum opus- Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 5:32 PM in ,
Ever since I was a kid, I didn’t like art movies. I thought these flicks made on shoestring budgets were only for the intelligentsia who had strong opinions on the complex human circumstances and relationships depicted in these films. Most names associated with parallel cinema like Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Deepa Mehta, Kumar Shahani, and even Satyajit Ray made me cringe. I developed an acute dislike for actors like Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi at a very early age for the mere fact that they acted in these offbeat flicks. I saw my first art movie when I was nine (name withheld to condense public outrage) and hated it so much that I turned my back on such movies forever. Now after ten years of abstinence, I finally decided to give it another shot, and this is how it happened---

Crisp monday morning and I’m sitting in my college’s seminar room waiting for the screening of ‘Water’ to begin. As part of an ongoing movie festival, the college is screening 2 art movies back to back today- ‘water’ and ‘dor’. Now many people I know had watched Dor and had praised it so much that I was already half willing to watch it if given a chance to (but only for free, ofcourse!). Water, on the other hand, is yet to release in India and I hadn’t been previously inundated with any opinions to watch/skip it whatsoever. What prompted me to watch it was its recent Oscar nomination. So there I was, sitting and waiting for the movie to start and mentally preparing myself for 4-5 harrowing hours of no music and sheer boredom. Click… beep… click… and we started rolling….

I am issuing a standard review of ‘water’ in public interest, for the benefit of the masses (that is for the junta reading this blog).

Directed by- Deepa Mehta
Written by- Deepa Mehta
Starring- Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Seema Biswas and Sarala
Language- Hindi
Running time- 114 minutes

Water is set in the 1930’s when India was still ruled by the British… and Mahatma Gandhi’s movement was slowly, but surely, picking up momentum. The movie is based on the lives of widows around that time and revolves around the story of Kalyani(Lisa Ray) and Narayan(John Abraham). Chuhiya(Sarala) garnishes the movie with her innocent presence and portrays the fate of young widows in the India of yester-years. Keeping in line with the Hindu tradition, girls were married off at an early age to older men and were subject to a life full of misery and servitude after their husband’s demise. Chuhiya is an eight year old who finds herself ‘widowed’ at this tender age. She is sent away to a widows’ home in Benaras where she has a lot of trouble coping up with the new ways and the kind of people that she will have to live with for the rest of her life. Kalyani is her only mate in the ashram. Amidst all the toil, they’re shown to have shared a lot of bubbly moments together. Being the only widow whose hair are not shorn, Kalyani is an outcast who’s sent to ‘serve and please’ the sethjis occasionally. Shakuntala(Seema Biswas) is an enigmatic inmate who has an innate tendency to do whatever is right in a given situation. Enters Narayan who is a stanch supporter of Gandhi with liberated views and believes that widows should be allowed to remarry. He sees Kalyani and love happens at first sight. Initially apprehensive, Kalyani soon drops all inhibitions and decides to marry him. The whole widow ashram is furious and Madhumati locks her away in a dingy room. The lustrous tresses are also chopped off callously. Shakuntala plays the iron lady once again and shows Kalyani to a better and more fulfilling life. But as they say, life is not a bed of roses and this is exactly what happens with the gorgeous couple. The fairy tale soon goes sour due to some unexpected turn of events. Despite this, the movie ends on a hopeful note. I’ll refrain from divulging further details because I want you all to go and experience the masterpiece for yourselves.
Water was an exceptionally well-made movie. The serene and spotless white clothes of the inmates, the tranquil banks of the Ganges, the forceful dialogue delivery of the actors, depiction of a widow’s hardships, cravings of the deprived (widows weren’t allowed to binge on fried foods like puris, halwa or jalebis!), prevalence of prostitution in dire conditions, monotonous existence, the innocent and carefree ways of a young child, et al… Mehta creates a magical atmosphere to showcase her story. The candid Sarala proves to be a child-artist par excellence. Ladoos and pets… water has a lot to offer.
The movie was shot in Sri Lanka after mobs destroyed its original sets in Varanasi in the year 2000. It was later shot using both a different cast and title (River Moon) in 2003. The film debuted in Canada in 2005 and is hitting the theatres in India tomorrow. Critics might argue that the movie is derogatory to the image of Hindus worldwide but I beg to differ. Being a girl myself, all I could think of while watching the flick was that how lucky I am to be born today and not in the 1930s. I also couldn’t help noticing as to how far we’ve come from the days when being a woman was no less than being cursed. It made me appreciate the social developments that we’ve made so far and also gave me a taste of what the generations before me might have gone through. All in all, a great package that needs to be seen by anyone who considers himself even remotely intelligent to appreciate niche works.
After ‘water’ they screened ‘dor’, which again had something to do with a widow, but was much lighter in essence than the former. Time flew while I watched these movies and when I walked out of the seminar hall… my perceptions about art movies had changed radically forever… for good! Hail diversity and intelligentsia. Amen!

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